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Pope Francis Takes the Gay Gloves Off – Can we drop the Both Sides journalism façade?

It’s time for journalists to report on Francis as accurately — and as harshly — as they report on Evangelical leaders with beliefs almost identical to his.

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Illustration by Max Huskins

False balance, also bothsidesism: A media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports.

I woke up Monday morning to harsh, depressing news

In a story from Axios, I learned Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have once again morally condemned me and most of the people I love, instructing priests to stop (or not to start) blessing same-sex unions — a practice that until yesterday was finding currency in more liberal Catholic quarters.

The story gets worse from there.

The details of the pronouncement are bad enough, but the bigger story is the journalistic environment in which they’re being reported. From the beginning of Francis’s papacy, major media have bent over backwards to find reasons to paint him as progressive on LGBTQ matters when regressive is a more fair description of his LGBTQ teachings and practices.

Journalists even in the most left-leaning publications often practice classic bothsidesism that paints a distorted picture of how Francis’s Church actually treats LGBTQ people, who mostly experience the Roman Catholic Church as an agent of oppression and stigmatization.

I belong to a large Irish-American Catholic clan, and I’ve heard my own progressive-ish nieces and nephews latch on to inaccurate news reporting that allows them to feel better about the Church they support and — this is critical — lulls them into a complacency that almost guarantees they will not pressure the Church to reform itself.

Here’s what the Vatican did on Monday

That Axios headline was clear and accurate: “Priests can’t bless gay unions because God “cannot bless sin.” Ireland’s RTE, a national public news service, broke the story down in more depth. Besides nixing blessings for gay couples, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has ruled that priests must restrict individual blessings to “persons with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

In other words, the Church demands celibacy in exchange for inclusion.

The ruling explicitly calls gay people disordered and sinful, spelling out that gay people are fine with the Church only so long as we never form intimate sexual relationships, a basic human need. With this document, the Church continues a tradition of religiously bullying members of gender and sexual minorities by inaccurately reducing our identities and innate biology to pathology.

Despite that, the CDF authors maintain their position constitutes the “respect and sensitivity” the Catechism requires. In Orwellian doublespeak typical of Francis, they claim their ruling is not a form of the “unjust discrimination” the Catechism forbids.

In fact, with Francis’s explicit authorization, this ruling affirms all the Church’s traditions that stigmatize and morally condemn LGBTQ people. For Catholic progressives hoping for the reform of Church teachings, Monday’s ruling dashes hopes.

Does Francis intend to reform the Church?

The document he just approved demonstrates his implacable opposition to reform. It’s harsh, authoritarian, dehumanizing, and damaging to real human beings all over the world. It gives Catholic clergy and lay leaders all the tools they need to continue condemning and pathologizing LGBTQ people.

That’s the real story here, and almost nobody is reporting it like that

Check out this New York Times sub-header: “In a ruling made public on Monday, the Vatican said the Roman Catholic Church should be welcoming toward gay people, but not their unions.”

That sentence is fundamentally inaccurate, even outright misleading.

It’s a perfect example of looking for two sides to a story even when one of those sides is barely true. Sure the CDF document calls for “welcoming,” but it explicitly instructs priests not to be welcoming — to withhold ordinary blessings from gay people in partnerships, to teach those gay people that they are living “in sin.”

You can dig into that Times article and get some good information, though you’d have to dig hard, and you would not find the critical piece about banning individual blessings. The Times chose not to report that, even though it’s perhaps the most important part of the story.

The Washington Post did a slightly better job, but their lede is as inaccurate and misleading as the Times’ sub-header: “Pope Francis has invited LGBT advocates to the Vatican. He has spoken warmly about the place of gay people in the church. He has called for national laws for same-sex civil unions.”

Seriously? That’s the lede? That’s neutral journalism?

It gets worse. Look how they report on individual blessings: “The decree said individual gay people could continue to be blessed by the church, provided they show ‘the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.’”

If the reader blinked, they missed that the Church just ordered priests to stop blessing individual gay people who aren’t celibate. This story is much more detailed than the one in the Times; it contains some accurate information. It frankly confronts the issue of gay Catholics feeling betrayed. But it uses classic bothsidesism to paint a more positive picture than exists on the ground. Nobody reading the story would conclude that the Church under Francis has regressed on LGBTQ inclusion, even though it has regressed substantially.

Reading the Times, the Post, or most mainstream newspapers, the reader would have missed something profoundly important: Francis often makes kind-sounding personal observations about LGBTQ people but has done nothing to translate those observations into policy. His specific actions have more often been regressive, and his statements have often been misleading.

  • Regressive: In 2016, Francis hardened the 2005 ban on gay men training for the priesthood that his predecessor Pope Benedict had put in place. Two years later, Francis implied that the ban is based in part on his personal belief that gay men are likely to be neurotic.
  • Regressive: In 2018, Francis instructed Catholic parents to send gay children to therapy, implying that before the age of 20, conversion therapy might be effective. Prior to that pronouncement, the Church had a reputation for opposing conversion therapy, known to be ineffective and dangerous. Since then, Catholic dioceses all over the U.S. have partnered with conversion therapy providers, and the practice is increasing.
  • Regressive: In 2018, Francis indicated in unscripted remarks at the Vatican that families headed by LGBTQ parents are not “real families.” Subsequently, he refused to meet with with a delegation of Catholic families headed by gay parents. He demonstrated unwelcoming behavior.
  • Misleading: Last September, Francis was widely quoted as telling a group of Italian parents of LGBTQ children that “The church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply.” He did not address their petition to him, which was for the Church to stop excluding their children. His kind words were widely reported, but almost no press source reported that his words were so misleading they were, practically speaking, a lie.
  • Misleading: Last October, following the release of a documentary, press reported that Francis supports civil unions for gay couples, quoting him saying gay people deserve families. Nobody reported that he opposes gay couples raising children together. The Vatican later clarified that by “deserving families,” Francis meant that straight parents should not kick gay children out of their homes. He did not mean that gay couples ought to form families. Almost no one noticed the correction.

Mainstream press perspective on Francis is itself misleading

The Catholic Church is in crisis, shrinking in the western world so fast some analysts call the trend an implosion. In former monolithic Catholic strongholds like Ireland and Quebec, the Church no longer plays any significant cultural role. Around the world, from the United States, to Argentina and even Italy, Church attendance is falling fast, precipitously fast among young people.

Most of those young people cite harsh teachings and practices about LGBTQ people as one reason for seeking spiritual succor outside the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis and the Vatican have powerful motives to mislead about their deeply unpopular values. That’s understandable, but the Press ought to hold them to account.

It’s funny how mainstream news sources hold Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson up to barely concealed scorn, usually reporting their anti-LGBTQ practices and teachings accurately. It’s funny, because Pope Francis’s theology is every bit as harsh, yet the Press is consistently kind to him, seeming visibly to cooperate to make his harsh, stigmatizing theology appear “kindler and gentler.”

Granted, they’re following his lead, but that doesn’t justify bad reporting.

Francis’s Church causes enormous pain and suffering

In the United States alone, where bishops are very conservative, LGBTQ people trying to be included in Catholic spiritual communities are regularly shamed and shunned.

The details include teenagers bullied at school by administrators, blackmailed into unwanted counseling, and forced into conversion therapy. LGBTQ and allied teachers and administrators are fired in witch hunts. Music leaders lose their jobs after decades of faithful service. LGBTQ support groups are forced out of Church-owned buildings. Every day, Catholic leaders teach and show people that queer folks are second class and deserving of punishment.

Around the world, the situation is even worse. Catholic bishops have incited anti-LGBTQ violence in places like Poland and Ghana. The Church is inarguably perpetuating and strengthening anti-LGBTQ sentiment. But the Press reported none of that yesterday.

It’s time for the Press paradigm to change

That story about gay civil unions is a story of oppression. It’s a story about a religious institution working to deny real civil marriage to same-sex couples, about an institution working to stop same-sex couples from raising children together.

You’d never know that browsing the Times or the Post — or almost any other major newspaper — because just like yesterday, the Press framed “both sides” of an issue that is deeply and factually one-sided. That paradigm has to change. It’s not the Press’s job to make excuses for a deeply toxic, unapologetically homophobic institution.

When the Press does that, they strengthen homophobia by normalizing it.

Mainstream press should be as hard-hitting as the LGBTQ press

The only hard-hitting press coverage I’ve seen of yesterday’s story about gay people being sinful comes from the Washington Blade, a newspaper that focuses on LGBTQ issues.

The Blade reached out to Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man and a survivor of clergy sex abuse who met with Francis at the Vatican in 2018. Cruz had harsh words of truth for the Pope and the rest of the Vatican hierarchy. He compared the CDF to Tomás de Torquemada, who spearheaded the Spanish Inquisition from which the CDF is descended. Cruz called for immediate change in Vatican leadership:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and especially its prefects are completely in a world of their own, away from people and trying to defend the indefensible. We see it in this quest to annihilate LGBT people, in the slowness with which the crimes of abuse are dealt with, their inhumanity in their awareness of people’s suffering so contrary to Pope Francis who I don’t know why he allows such inhumane and self-interested people in charge.

Bothsidesism is suppressing accurate news coverage

Francis will likely never hear Cruz’s angry, anguished words. He’ll likely never hear a chorus of outraged, anguished LGBTQ voices condemning him for his toxic, inhumane teachings and practices.

Most people will never hear those voices, because mainstream press won’t amplify them.

Laila Lalami observed in The Nation a couple years ago that bothsidesism “poisons America” by giving people too busy to thoroughly read news coverage a false impression of current events. When journalists bend over backwards to create balance where little exists, they do great harm.

That’s happening right now with Pope Francis, and it’s time for it to stop. It’s time for my nieces and nephews to stop finding excuses for the inexcusable dished up on silver platters. It’s time for them to feel deeply uncomfortable about the Church they support — so they can help reform it.

Knowledge is power.

It’s time for journalists to report on Francis as accurately — and as harshly — as they report on Evangelical leaders with beliefs almost identical to his.

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This post was previously published at James Finn – The Blog and republished here by permission.

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The 10th anniversary of the official end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers were ruined by the time DADT officially ended

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Franklin Burch of Los Angeles, 70, at the 1993 March on Washington (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Franklin Burch was ecstatic marching down the street waving a small American flag and an “Uncle Sam: I Want You” poster during the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. “Gays and lesbians have a right to serve,” the 70-year old gay vet from Los Angeles told the Washington Post on April 25, 1993. “This is America, and we have these rights.”

An estimated 700,000 LGBTQ and allies agreed, marching past the White House and pouring onto the Mall, many grasping for hope during the horrific Second Wave of AIDS. An idealistic optimism was palpable. Gays had voted en masse to elect Bill Clinton as President of the United States, ejecting the Reagan-Bush administration that ignored the deaths of a generation of gay men. Clinton had promised money for AIDS research and pledged nondiscrimination policies, including lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military.

Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer and Navy Petty Officer Keith Meinhold with ACLU/SOCal’s Ramona Ripston and ANGLE’s David Mixner at an HRCF “Lift the Ban” event in West Hollywood Park Auditorium (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 
 

ANGLE’s David Mixner, a Clinton friend from the anti-Vietnam War days, strenuously pointed out that the US military was America’s largest employer, enabling gay people stuck in hateful environments to get out, get an education, see the world and serve their country. Not giving gays that opportunity was unfair, and therefore, unAmerican.

The March on Washington program opened with a stunning Robin Tyler-produced encapsulation of the moment – a sense of pride in our patriotism. To a recording of military theme songs, flag-bearing gays and lesbians who had been drummed out of the military marched onstage, accompanied by some active-duty military coming out publicly based on Clinton’s promise.

Navy Petty Officer Keith Meinhold and Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer ended the procession, with Cammermeyer calling everyone to attention. The crowd – including me – stood at attention, too, tears streaming down our faces at the courage of our people to serve a country that still treated us as deviants. 

Dorothy Hajdys, Allen Schindler’s mother, at DADT protest in Long beach (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

Then Dorothy Hajdys took the stage carrying a framed photo of her son, Petty Officer Third Class Allen Schindler, murdered six months earlier in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by two shipmates. The coroner said Schindler’s injuries were worse “than the damage to a person who’d been stomped by a horse.” Schindler could only be identified by the tattoos on his arm. The March on Washington crowd gave Hajdys a 10-minute standing ovation. We knew the cost of freedom.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a letter from Clinton, who didn’t attend or send a video, as expected. “I stand with you in the struggle for equality for All Americans, including gay men and lesbians,” Clinton wrote. “In this great country, founded on the principle that all people are created equal, we must learn to put aside what divides us and focus on what we share.”

Liberal Democratic icon Senator Edward M. Kennedy spoke via an audio tape, comparing our March to the famous civil rights march of 1963. “We stand again at the crossroads of national conscience,” Kennedy said.

But there were hints of a coming storm. Robin Tyler tore a Clinton telegram of apology on stage as unacceptable. “A Simple Matter of Justice” banner flapped in the background as beloved ally actress Judith Light said:  “I am grateful to you, the gay and lesbian community, for the impact you are having on all of society. I am grateful for your teaching Colin Powell about equal opportunity. I am grateful for your teaching Sam Nunn about moving into the 20th Century. I am grateful for your teaching George Bush about the consequences of irresponsible neglect and misuse of power. And you are in the process of teaching President Clinton the importance of being a leader and the dangers of compromising with what is right and just.”   

But teaching doesn’t equal lessons learned. Clinton betrayed us, agreeing to a Nunn-devised “compromise” on lifting the gay ban called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner evoked horrific “gay sexual predator” images as they went aboard a submarine to ask sailors how they’d feel lying in such proximity to a gay shipmate. The subtext was clearly an invitation to harass those suspected of being gay and lesbian. Witch hunts were sport.

David Mixner, Diane Abbitt, Roberta Bennett, John Duran protesting DADT (Photo by Jeremy Bernard)  

The cruelty of DADT went beyond the physical. If a buddy on the frontlines in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), the gay servicemember could not share the fear, the pain, the trauma because letters back home were checked and psychiatrists and chaplains had to report gay-related confessions. The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers were ruined by the time DADT officially ended a decade later, on Sept. 20, 2011.

Today, marking the 10th anniversary of the official repeal, the Veterans Administration concedes it is still catching up with all the damage governmental politics created. It’s estimated that more than 114,000 LGBTQ servicemembers or those perceived to be LGBTQ were discharged between Franklin Burch’s service in World War II and the repeal of DADT. 

“Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created. LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services,” writes Kayla Williams, a bisexual veteran and assistant secretary for public affairs in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs on the VA blog. 

Clinton’s betrayal broke our hearts and ruined lives. But amazingly, it did not stop us — which attorney C. Dixon Osburn, a civilian graduate of Georgetown University Law, recounts in his just released must-read book Mission Possible: The Story of the Repealing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ 

This is the stunning story of how Osburn and attorney Michelle Benecke, a Harvard Law graduate and former Army captain, founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to immediately help desperate servicemembers and work with nonprofit allies and law firms to challenge DADT in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

Mission Possible completes an important trilogy about LGBTQ people serving in the US military, next to Coming Out Under Fire, by Alan Bérubé and Randy Shilts’ Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military.

These books are not only LGBTQ history, but about our patriotism and what drives our private lives — and how government has intervened to block us at every step based on bias. 

Dixon Osburn leading protest of DADT (Photo courtesy Osborn/SLDN) 

Mission Possible is also a book about endurance, ingenuity and triumph. If a united gay voting bloc and 700,000 people on the Mall and thousands more back home didn’t give Clinton enough clout or backbone to keep his promise to lift the gay military ban – SLDN needed a smart, comprehensive strategy and a willingness and stamina to keep their eyes on the distant prize of repealing DADT. After educating an anti-military community and fighting a “graveyard mentality” that believed that lifting the gay ban was impossible, they had to figure out how to secure bipartisan support.

And there was bipartisan support, privately. “Party sticks with party, unless there’s a breakthrough, Osborn says, noting that GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told him: “You have to create the moment so I can be with you.” 

With the discharge of the Arab linguists, DADT became less an issue of civil rights and more publicly an obstacle to national security. There are scores of nail-biting behind-the-scenes stories about how SLDN shifted the public and military consciousness from July 1993 to September 20, 2011, “when President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, or recruiting and retention.”

President Obama signs the certification stating the statutory requirements for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been met 9-20-2011 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

December 18, 2010 – on Osburn’s birthday – the Senate finally voted to deliver more than 60 votes to overcome Republican Sen. John McCain’s repeated and stubborn use of the filibuster to block repeal. There are echoes of political machinations of today.

There are crafty stories, as well, illustrating the absurdity of DADT. For instance, Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, Osburn writes, “was the epitome of the competent, well-regarded openly gay soldier who put a lie to the belief that his mere presence would weaken military readiness. He was out to his Army buddies and had even introduced them to his boyfriend.” In 2006 at Fort Hood, he started getting anonymous emails and “calls warning him that he was being watched and to ‘turn the flame down.’” He sought advice from his commanding officer which triggered an investigation, with which Manzella fully cooperated. The Army concluded he wasn’t gay and told him to go back to work. He was subsequently deployed to Iraq, then Kuwait, unsure whether a new commander would discharge him. 

SLDN reached out to Manzella to see if he’d be willing to do a 60 Minutes interview, explaining the pros and cons if he went forward. He said yes, but how to do it knowing the Army wouldn’t grant permission? SLDN communications director Steve Ralls came up with a plan. “Manzella signed up to run in the Army marathon in Kuwait. At a predetermined point, he veered off-course to a waiting car that whisked him to a hotel, where he changed into civilian clothes and met with correspondent Lesley Stahl. After the interview, he changed back into his running clothes, the crew doused him with sweaty water, and the car whisked him back so he could cross the finish line,” Osburn writes. “Once the segment was broadcast, the Army could no longer pretend that Manzella wasn’t gay, or that ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a law with an on-off switch. He was discharged six months later and became one of the many vocal advocates for repeal.”

On December 22, 2010, President Barack Obama kept the campaign promise he made and signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’  We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.  We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for.  Those are the ideals that we uphold today,” Obama said.  “And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.”

President Barack Obama signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 during a ceremony at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., Dec. 22, 2010.
(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“There’s been a lot of progress in the last 10 years – despite the last four,” Osburn says. “It’s all been teed up by SLDN.” 

But we still are not fully first-class citizens, though we now have the right to serve and die for our country. The Equality Act is next.

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Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist, who now works for Public Justice. She has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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Texas abortion ban author: State can control private sex

The architect of the Texas law that bans abortion says the government should have the power to regulate your private sexual conduct

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This drawing from OpenClipArt has been used to illustrate ‘The Scarlett Letter’

By James Finn | DETROIT, Mi. – Do you think your consensual adult sexual behavior in your own home is nobody’s business but yours? Do you think The Scarlett Letter is a cautionary tale? Do you believe you enjoy the fundamental right to be free from state control of your sex life?

Jonathan Mitchell says you’re wrong. The architect of the Texas law that bans abortion at about six weeks after conception (before many women even know they’re pregnant) says the government should have the power to regulate your private sexual conduct.

Yes, really.

He and co-counsel Adam Mortara just spelled that out in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, a friend-of-the-court filing in a Mississippi abortion case in which they urge the justices to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade.

They don’t stop with the high court’s abortion-ban precedent. They take direct aim at privacy rulings that bar states from banning same-sex marriage or criminalizing private sex like same-gender sex, oral sex, and anal sex. They tell the court outright that people in the U.S. do not enjoy a fundamental right to private sex lives.

This is a remarkable argument from a legal duo who represent leading contemporary thought in the Republican Party, which has traditionally positioned itself as a champion of individual liberty. Many Republicans say they are loyal to the Republican Party because they want the state out of their private lives. I wonder how many of them understand the extent to which leading Republican thinkers urge more state control rather than less state control.

Mitchell’s ‘vigilante’ provision is a clever trick but not a central problem

Mitchell is most well known for his “private right of action” innovation in the the Texas abortion ban, a clever legal trick that has so far impeded judicial review. His innovation, which he’s been thinking about publicly since at least 2018, removes government actors from enforcement. No government actors means potential plaintiffs have nobody to sue. Nobody to sue means courts can’t rule on the law one way or the other.

But as clever as his idea is, it’s still a trick, and other clever people are working hard to bring cases that can be heard and ruled on. Court watchers say they will eventually succeed, that the justices will be forced to confront the central liberty infringement of the Texas law. Then what? Isn’t the right to abortion too firmly embedded in legal theory and practice to be overturned now?

Overturning Roe has far-reaching liberty consequences

No women’s rights are infringed, Mitchell and Mortara write in defense of the Mississippi abortion ban I cited above, because if women don’t want children, they can always choose not to have sex. This argument would apply, they write, even if women’s access to contraception were not assured, claiming a private sex life is not a fundamental liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

They argue without apology for the right of the State to control women’s bodies, but they don’t stop there.

They acknowledge their legal reasoning leaves “gay sex” rights and same-sex marriage “hanging by a thread” and seem quite cheerful about that. They claim those rights are “lawless,” and the court should not agonize over them. They don’t say so out loud, but their arguments also imply that states should be free to bar or impose barriers to contraception.

‘Outsider’ Mitchell narratives lack context

Mitchell, 45, is often described as a political outsider, but that’s not broadly true. He’s a conservative ideologue who’s spent almost two decades moving between government posts and prestigious law professorships at institutions like Stanford and the University of Texas at Austin. He was a law clerk to the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (His co-counsel Adam Mortara clerked for conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who never met an individual liberty he couldn’t dismiss or state power he couldn’t justify.)

Mitchell served as Texas solicitor general from 2010 to 2015. He served on Donald Trump’s presidential transition team and was unsuccessfully nominated by Trump to head a federal agency.

He was short listed as a potential Trump Supreme Court nominee and has strong ties to the Federalist Society, which besides taking a constrictive view of human liberty, has long sought to overturn Roe. Mitchell’s legal work has been funded by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which despite the name is mostly known for defending organizations that constrain individual freedom in the name of institutional religious privilege. The Alliance was at one time considered fringe in Republican circles but is now mainstream.

Mitchell is not an outsider. He sits at the center of Trumpian and post-Trump conservative ideology, a center that might surprise the large majority of Americans who, irrespective of party affiliation, value personal liberty more than Mitchell, Mortara, Justice Thomas, et al.

The Scarlett Letter and American Puritanism

In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne penned The Scarlet Letter: A Romance, a historical fiction novel now read by most U.S. students while still in high school. The novel is complex and has much to say about human failings, faith, religion, and redemption. But in the main, Americans read the novel as a cautionary tale, a rejection of Puritan anti-liberty practices, an indirect defense of individual liberty. We see protagonist Hester Prynne as a victim of neighbors who can’t or won’t mind their own business.

Americans hold personal liberty in such high esteem that the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas shocked many of us. When the justices ruled that Texas could not enforce a criminal law against two men having sex in the privacy of their own bedroom, the typical reaction went something like, “Of course! Isn’t private sex already a fundamental liberty? How could this ruling even have been necessary?”

That reaction takes us to the heart of constitutional liberty and privacy arguments. Most Americans, like me, believe the State should not have the power to deprive people of individual liberty without a truly compelling State interest. We believe that rights don’t have to be enumerated in the Constitution to be protected. We believe individual liberty is presumed, not granted. We believe that without privacy, true liberty withers on the vine.

We believe the State has no business interfering in anyone’s private sex life.

These are all principles that have at various times been held up by conservatives as virtues. I internalized these ideas as conservative when I was a child attending a very conservative private religious school. As a child in the 70s, I understood the Republican Party to stand for defending these liberty ideas.

When Jonathan Mitchell and Adam Mortara write that the State ought to have the right to control private sex lives, and when Republican thought leaders cheer them on, we had all better sit up and pay attention. Republicans especially should pay attention.

The Grand Old Party isn’t what it used to be. Conservative values aren’t what they used to be. Hester Prynne has a lot to teach us. The question is, will we pay attention before it’s too late?

Do you really want to live in a country where politicians decide if and how you can have sex? I don’t. Now, what are we going to do about it?

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a regular columnist for queer news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

The preceding article was previously published at Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling, and is republished here by permission.

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Carl Bean was Way More than a one-hit wonder

“He was a big gay guy with a big gay heart who loved in a very big gay way- he welcomed everybody with open arms. You felt wanted”

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Rev. Carl Bean with NMAC’s Paul Kawata after the LA Riots in 1992 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – When gay Archbishop Carl Bean died Sept. 7, most of the mainstream media headlined his obit with a reference to Lady Gaga singing her version of Bean’s 1977 disco hit, “Born This Way.” Bean was immensely proud of that song with its self-affirming lyric “I’m happy/ I’m carefree/ and I’m gay/ I was born this way.”

He used to say that his first calling from God came in front of a theatre microphone, not the Bible, which he said came thousands of years after the first “Word” of God – and that Word was an ever-evolving Spirit.

Memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at McCarty Memorial Christian Church, 4103 W. Adams Blvd., in West Adams.

Of course, the LGBTQ community is immensely grateful to Lady Gaga for that “freedom” song in 2011. But for the sake of LGBTQ and AIDS history, it is critical to understand just how many lives Carl Bean saved, not just with that song but the spiritual attitude and love behind it.

It was gay Black people, his people, who called the 60s gospel singer to come out, be authentic, and find a way to let them know that God loved them, too. He did that with the Barry Gordy/Motown hit, “Born This Way,” in which he said: “Love me like I love you/ I was born this way.” 

“Carl Bean was more than just a disco-era recording artist,” author and CNN political analyst Keith Boykin wrote on Facebook.   

“God is love, and love is for everyone.” That’s what people need to remember about Carl Bean. He was a big gay guy with a big gay heart who loved in a very big gay way – which is to say, he welcomed everybody with open arms, a big smile and a hug like you never felt before. You felt wanted.

It pained Bean that his beloved gay community didn’t love God as he did. In 1982, he was ordained by the Christian Tabernacle Church, which eventually prompted him to then found Unity Fellowship Church of Christ to welcome the poor, the despised and the disavowed.

“In the beginning my concern was that many of my peers had a hateful idea of God and Christians. How could I say to those peers that there are others who read [the Bible] differently—that was the driving incentive,” he told POZ in 2015.

“But HIV was there at the same time. Having been a black gospel singer, I knew everyone [in the Black church] knew that the church organist was gay, that the best singer in the choir was gay, but it was never talked about. But now there [was] this other thing that we [couldn’t] ignore.

In the gay community, they said Silence=Death [a popular ACT UP slogan]. That personally spoke to me, that you can’t be silent now, you can’t let people die around you. I just knew I had love for my fellow human beings and that the Christ consciousness in me said, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’

“In any oppressed community, there is an underlying need to appear to be liked,” Bean continued. “So, you go out of your way to hide anything that might point a finger at you for being inferior. For instance, when I first started doing AIDS work, I knew one of the things I’d have to battle [in the Black community] is the notion, ‘Here’s something else they’re going to blame on us’ and ‘That’s those white boys in West Hollywood, but that’s one thing that’s not us.’ I had to say, ‘That’s not true.’” 

But how to caress and reassure all the terrified, lonely gaunt Black AIDS faces of distraught and closeted parishioners, dying during a time of stigma, indignity, fear, rejection of family, friends, and the church during and after death?   

In 1985, the Unity Fellowship Church board, which included Jewel Thais-Williams, who held fundraisers at her famed Catch One nightclub, decided to launch Minority AIDS Project as a secular nonprofit outreach project of the Church in South Central Los Angeles.

A few years later, in 1987, Bean, Paul Kawata, Gil Gerald, and several other prominent AIDS leaders founded the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in response to the American Public Health Association (APHA) decision to not invite anyone of color to participate on the panel of its first ever AIDS workshop, at its 1986 association meeting, according to NMAC history

AIDS started devastating the caregivers, as well as those impact by AIDS.

Close friends Rev. Carl Bean and Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the MCC Church, used to cry together to provide each other with solace. Kawata was also close with Bean but had a different starting point.

“AIDS left me feeling betrayed and lost. How could there be a God when there was so much pain and death?” he told POZ. “I could not adjust my mind to this contradiction until Carl came into my life. He asked for nothing as he took care of people who had been rejected by their families and friends, people facing multiple issues with drugs, incarceration, and HIV. Soon it would be in numbers that are still too hard to fathom. Through his work I could see God.” 

Carl Bean knew he was the voice for many too afraid to speak up. “I want you to know, I used wine and whiskey . . . heroin . . . even sold my body because I was different,” Bean told the audience at the opening of the Carl Bean AIDS Care Center and 25-bed hospice on Adams Blvd. in 1992. “I don’t care how poor you are or what little you have . . . I want you to keep on walking, keep on talking. Accept yourself.” 

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein was introduced to Rev. Carl Bean through his best friend, AIDS activist Chris Brownlie who had bonded with Bean when the activists volunteered at Minority AIDS Project, then just one room, barely an organization. Weinstein considered his relationship with Bean to be like “brothers in struggle” since he was “the only person in leadership who  supported them. We bailed them out in the pinch many times” Weinstein told me.

“I’m not a believer, but I went to church there relatively regularly,” he said, as well as attending gatherings led by Louise Hay, Rev. Sandy Scott and others. 

“One of my strongest memories was one day I was at the church — it was before they moved across the street and they built out the church — and [Carl] said, ‘Turn out the lights.’ There really weren’t many windows. It was really pitch black and he goes, ‘We’re going to talk about molestation.” And he says in that voice that he has, ‘You are not to blame. It’s not your fault.’

He just kept repeating that. I’m sitting in my folding chair and there’s all these people wailing and crying. And the wailing was shocking to me — to know that that many people in this little church had been molested. That was, in a way, the embodiment of who he was. On the one hand, he would bring up subjects that other people wouldn’t touch. On the other hand, it was really all about love and he always said it was a liberation theology.” 

Bean also recognized that Weinstein did not show up as part of what many deemed the white racist gay establishment. They bonded out of “a mutual love and respect for Chris, the politics of L.A. County [and the level of care people with AIDS were receiving], and the culture of the gay community. And it was also about meeting the very real basic needs that people had at the street level.” 

Or any level, if not rich. Chris Brownlie, for instance, was rushed to the hospital and lay on a gurney for three days,” says Weinstein. Finally, Weinstein got in touch with that LA County Supervisor Ed Edelman, begging to get Brownlie out of there. “He was in a bed within about six hours of that.”

Bean and Weinstein bonded over the need to pressure elected officials – Bean was close to Congressmember Maxine Waters. Her important Minority AIDS Initiative started with a meeting with Bean at Jewel’s Catch One Disco.

Carl Bean at opening of Carl Bean Hospice (Photo courtesy of AHF)

Carl Bean was happy to have the AHF-sponsored hospice and clinic named after him. “The place was in the community. It was theirs, that they felt it was home.” 

But that didn’t mean Bean showed Weinstein any favoritism. “He did so many funerals and intimate counseling sessions with so many families,” Weinstein said. “When I would go to see him on Jefferson and sometimes I’d be waiting because he’d be in a one-on-one with someone. It’s hard to capture how scared and lonely a lot of the people who came to Minority AIDS Project were. They weren’t really ‘out’ in a way that we talk about it. He gave them a sense of community.” 

What was so amazing for these grassroots leaders, Weinstein said, was that there was never any aspect of competition with one another. There was just a certain basic truth that we felt about one another. It didn’t mean that we feel like each of us was perfect. But it was more like these are people who thought about what was best for the community. They put that above their own selfish interests.”

“I don’t fear being honest about who I am,” Bean said in a video before release of his autobiography, I Was Born This Way, in 2010. “I expect to be called upon to speak about it, challenge, probably debated, but I know that it would give a lot of people permission to be honest about who they are. God is love, and love is for everyone.” 

“Today we stand with our heads held high because we know that we are worthy of LOVE! We know that we were born this way. We know that God loves us just the way we are. Imagine these truths were considered counter narratives at one point in our history,” said In The Meantime Men Executive Director Jeffrey King.

“The life and legacy of Archbishop Carl Bean will live on through those of us who were blessed by his powerful life-affirming words and his fierce and radical deeds and acts of true Christian-centered compassion. In all my years on this planet, I have witnessed only a few who have risen to his level of leadership. We remain committed to teaching our youth about his life, his work and his legacy. He is the foundation for everything that has and will follow in the LGBTQ+/ HIV/ Liberation Movement. His work continues.” 

Community activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick on Friday announced the plans for the memorial service for Bean.

Memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at McCarty Memorial Christian Church, 4103 W. Adams Blvd., in West Adams.

 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congresswoman (ret.) Diane Watson, LA County Supervisor (ret.) Yvonne Burke, L.A. City Council President (ret.) Herb Wesson, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation founder Michael Weinstein are slated to speak at the public memorial service for renowned AIDS activist and gospel singer Archbishop Carl Bean.

The memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 18, 2021, at McCarty Memorial Christian Chruch (4103 W. Adams Blvd.) in West Adams.  Social distancing protocols will be in place for all attendees and masks will be required.  Parking is limited.  Ridesharing and public transportation are encouraged. African entire is requested.

A repast will immediately follow the service at Unity Fellowship Church (5147 W. Jefferson Blvd.).

The memorial live stream can be watched here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87256934172?pwd=aUxRM1VkdXg5Ujc0VjRKQXRlZTRwUT09

Donations can be made in Bean’s honor to Minority AIDS Project at minorityaidsproject.org/donate/.

Afterwards, In The Meantime Men is opening their Carl Bean headquarters for reflection.  

********************

Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist, who now works for Public Justice. She has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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